Somnambule - Writing About Music

Alice Coltrane ~ Radha - Krsna Nama Sankirtana

‘Radha – Krsna Nama Sankirtana’ was recorded in August 1976, nine months before ‘Transcendence’ which could be considered a sister work. It kicks off in similar vein to the second half of the latter with a groovy, gospel influenced, but fairly disposable percussion/choir/organ chantalong. ‘Ganesha’ follows: a delicious, but all too brief (2 mins 44 secs) harp/tamboura duet with Sita Coltrane on the latter instrument. A couple more chants follow. Then it happens: a duet featuring Alice on organ and her son, Arjuna John Coltrane Jr, on drums. It stretches on for a gorgeous nineteen minutes that stand a mile out in terms of event, exploration, inter-communication. It’s camouflaged well though: for one thing, its title (‘Om Namah Sivaya’) sits snugly with the others: ‘Hare Krishna’, ‘Ganesha’, etc; for another it starts off fairly straightforwardly, almost cheesily (I don’t know what type of organ it is, but it sounds cheap!) stating the theme a number of times, but then it launches off into pitchbending improvisation underpinned by much pumping of the bass pedals. If a burglar stole the first four tracks from this cd in the night, I doubt whether I’d mind, but take that fifth track and I’ll be calling the cops. On ‘Illuminations’, Carlos Santana’s 1974 duet album with Alice Coltrane there is a gorgeous freakout (‘Angel of Sunlight’) with Jack deJohnette and Dave Holland that sits like a jewel upon a pillow of gentle, devotional music. Similar case here with ‘Radha’: suddenly music that makes you sit up and take notice. For this track alone – recommended.
Colin Buttimer
April 2002
Published by the BBC